These influencers show there’s no one way for a fit body to look.
Have you ever turned to social media for workout inspiration? The hashtag #fitspo (short for “fitspiration,” or fitness plus inspiration) is attached to more than 74 million posts on Instagram; videos with the same hashtag have racked up over 1.4 billion views on TikTok.
Do these posts capture what fitness really looks like?
A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in March 2017 examined 415 social media posts tagged with #fitspo and concluded that the majority of the images promoted a narrow, gendered view of fitness: Female subjects tended to be thin and toned, while male subjects tended to be extremely muscular.
But Jacque Crockford, an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified personal trainer based in San Diego and a senior product manager at ACE (where she focuses on some of the organization’s education efforts), says if those mainstream #fitspo images are the only ones you’re seeing on your social media feeds, dig a little deeper. There are plenty of fitness professionals (including fitness influencers on social media) whose bodies don’t look like that, and who are doing a lot to highlight what it actually means to be fit. “Health and fitness professionals do have the power to continue to shift the tides toward more inclusive, positive ideas around fitness,” she says.
So, how can you identify which influencers are getting it right? Accounts that foster a healthy relationship with fitness tend to focus on topics that aren’t necessarily related to size or weight, Crockford says. For example, they might encourage followers to “feel great and get better sleep” rather than “lose weight to fit into a bikini.” She recommends following social media accounts that support body confidence, self-care, and positive relationships with food and exercise.
If an account suggests that food or exercise is some kind of punishment, there is a good chance they’re contributing to stigma and bias around weight and size — which isn’t good for the fitness industry or society as a whole, she adds. Also be wary of accounts that try to sell you a program, piece of equipment, or meal plan that equates getting fit with losing weight, Crockford says. “Every body is different,” she says. Weight loss is not always the goal, and it isn’t necessarily a marker of fitness.
If you’re looking to add some positive fitness inspiration to your Instagram feed, consider following these nine workout pros, who prove fitness can look different for every body.
With Hampton Liu’s guidance on calisthenics, you don’t need exercise equipment, an expensive gym membership, or even a current workout routine. Traditional calisthenics exercises work large muscle groups using mostly a person’s own body weight, with minimal equipment, but Liu’s approach uses a combination of yoga, martial arts, and gymnastics, too. He regularly posts at-home workouts that you can modify to match your fitness level. His philosophy is that fitness is a journey, and his posts promote fitness at all levels — whether you’re wondering “What if I can’t do a push-up?” or “What should I do if I’m not seeing the results I want?”
Jessie Diaz-Herrera is the New York City–based dance teacher and fitness enthusiast behind Curves With Moves, which offers virtual body-positive dance classes and in-person plus-size wellness events. She’s not afraid to call out toxic workout culture buzzwords (like “fat-burning” or “beach body”), and instead focuses on ways to feel good about your fitness practice, whether it’s by practicing affirmations or embracing your “jiggle.”
Miles Borrero is a transmasculine Latinx yoga instructor certified by the Yoga Alliance whose work creates a safe space for transmasc and nonbinary folks to practice yoga. He teaches a Beyond Binary class dedicated to celebrating members of the queer, trans, and nonbinary communities, and sometimes shares clips from his classes to his feed. (Borrero also hosts annual yoga retreats in Colombia if you want some off-the-’gram fitness inspiration.)
Fitness isn’t the realm of any one particular age group. Just ask Tania Dalton, who completed her first Ironman Triathlon at 52. Dalton’s interest in fitness and healthy aging took hold after her father died of a heart attack at 47, per her website. Now she’s a personal trainer certified by the Australian nonprofit AUSactive, and she specializes in post-menopausal health and fitness. Follow her for motivational quotes about life post-menopause, workout clips with her dog Chilli, and pics of the gorgeous Australian landscape. You can also check out her blog, where she muses on topics like body image, self-esteem, and her fitness practice.
Come for the pole dancing workout tips, stay for Roz Mays’s hilarious takes on life. This National Academy of Sports Medicine–certified personal trainer is as real as they come. She posts highlights from her workouts, reminders that everybody is shaped differently, and tips for elevating your exercise routine. She even teaches workshops on how to make the fitness industry more inclusive to LGBTQ+ athletes, plus-size athletes, athletes with disabilities, and those working through body dysmorphia and fitness anxiety. Catch one of her in-person pole dance fitness classes if you live near New York City, or reach out to her for a personal training session over Zoom.
James Sutliff is a personal trainer and disability coach based in Leicester, England. He lives with dystonia, a condition in which muscles contract involuntarily and cause repetitive or twisting movements in one or several parts of the body, per the Mayo Clinic. But Sutliff’s account doesn’t just give visibility to an often invisible disease; he regularly posts videos of himself working with clients of all different abilities, showing that ableism has no place in the fitness community.
Dianne Bondy is a Yoga Alliance–certified yoga instructor. She’s also the founder of Yoga for Everyone, a yoga class streaming service that aims to empower anyone, regardless of their shape, size, or ability level, to adopt a yoga practice they feel good about. Bondy is also a public speaker who talks about how, as a woman of color living in a larger body, she’s trying to change an industry dominated by people who are young, thin, flexible, white, and able-bodied, according to her website.
Follow her to add some positivity to your feed, whether she’s talking about her journey to a healthier body image, taking a moment of mindfulness while doing Pilates, or sharing thought-provoking quotes about her practice.
Cadence Dubus is a Brooklyn-based Pilates instructor who teaches strength and mobility for all bodies. She regularly posts demonstrations of quick, simple, at-home movements to help with everything from knee pain to morning muscle stiffness to stress. She doesn’t focus on what your body looks like; she focuses on how your body feels. The website for her Pilates studio, Brooklyn Strength, states “The impetus is always to make you skinny. I want to make you strong.”
Joan MacDonald has 1.6 million Instagram followers, and her feed is packed with at-home workout routines, tips on correct form, and motivational quotes. She has also launched a fitness app, a goal-setting journal, and a YouTube channel. Oh, and she’s 75 years old.
She began working out when she was 70, after her daughter Michelle suggested that exercise could help MacDonald manage some of the symptoms of high blood pressure, acid reflux, edema, and arthritis, according to her website. Now she’s on a mission to show people that it’s never too late to make a positive lifestyle change, improve your fitness, or love the way you feel in a bathing suit.
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